The Origin of Two-Covenant Theology
Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929) is prominent in virtually every historical work examining the factors that have influenced modern Jewish-Christian relations. Rosenzweig’s beliefs were like the proverbial stone that began an avalanche. The stone was an idea, a theory that created a storm in the history of ideas, especially in the history of religion. Just as avalanches begin slowly, picking up speed, energy, and mass—so it was with Rosenzweig’s “two covenant” theory of atonement.
Rosenzweig postulated the two-covenant theory in a work called The Star of Redemption shortly after the WWI. His two-covenant theology developed after a long series of discussions with Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, his friend and a Hebrew Christian philosopher of religion.
At one point in his life Rosenzweig was on the verge of accepting Christ as his Messiah, but his desire to learn more about his own Judaism caused a change of heart in what can only be compared to King Agrippa in Acts 26:28
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
Raised in Cassel, Germany in a largely assimilated Jewish household, he decided to attend a Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) service in Berlin first, saying,
He would enter Christianity through Judaism. Like the earliest Christians, he would only enter as a Jew and not as a pagan.
Instead of believing in Christ, Rosenzweig became fascinated with his Judaic roots. Nahum Glatzer writes about this in the 1961 biography, Franz Rosenzweig: His Life and Thought:
What the day [Yom Kippur] conveyed to him was that essential as a mediator may be in the Christian experience, the Jew stands in no need of mediation. God is near to man and desires his undeviated devotion.
The two-covenant theory of salvation, which Rosenzweig subsequently developed, basically states that God has established two different but equally valid covenants, one with His people Israel and the other with the Gentiles. The Covenant in Moses and the Covenant in Jesus are complementary to each other. Glatzer quotes Rosenzweig on this as follows:
Christianity acknowledges the God of the Jews, not as God but as “the Father of Jesus Christ.” Christianity itself cleaves to the “Lord” because it knows that the Father can be reached only through him …We are all wholly agreed as to what Christ and his church mean to the world: no one can reach the Father save through him. No one can reach the Father! But the situation is quite different for one who does not have to reach the Father because he is already with him. And this is true of the people of Israel (though not of individual Jews).
And so that’s how there are two ways of salvation, one for the Jewish people and another one for the Gentiles.
Glatzer continues, explaining Rosenzweig’s thoughts:
The synagogue, which is immortal but stands with broken staff and bound eyes, must renounce all this work in the world, and muster all her strength to preserve her life and keep herself untainted by life. And so she leaves the work in the world to the church and recognizes the church as the salvation for all heathens in all time.
Rabbi Jakob Josef Petuchowski was an American research professor of Jewish Theology and Liturgy, and professor of Judeo-Christian Studies at the Jewish Institute of Religion at Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio. He was born on July 25, 1925 in Berlin and died November 12, 1991 in Cincinnati. Rabbi Petuchowski says this about the two-covenant theory:
Rosenzweig conceded more than any Jew, while remaining a Jew, had conceded before him. He admitted the truth of John 14:6. (Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.) This is immediately qualified, though, by the assertion that “the Jew does not have to come to the Father. He has been with the Father ever since Sinai.”